Friday, 27 February 2009

Too many mutha uckas

"Mate, you swim like a dickhead..."

I'm in a small swimming baths in the suburbs of a provincial English city.

I like to keep fit, though I've never ever been to a gym in my life, therefore swimming is a good solution. When I was about fourteen, I swam a mile. I have no idea how I did that.

I would describe my swimming style as unorthodox. I guess this stems from my only real fear or phobia. Going underwater.

I can't explain this fear and it makes no sense. I have no idea where it came from but I've always had it. It must be something to do with not being able to breathe, but that is not everything. Any others I've had, heights, needles - I've conquered without a problem. This one sticks.

I remember when I was at school, I think probably the only detention I ever had was when I got into an argument with the PE teacher after I refused to dive to the bottom of the pool and get the brick. I said no, then I ended up getting out of the pool and totally refusing to even try. I just couldn't do it.

When I swim, it is a bit like a dog. My neck cranes and my head sticks out of the water. And sometimes there is a lot of effort for very little movement. I am better than I was, but I'm sure it looks a little strange.

Last week was the school holidays. Bad news for swimming, but I needed a bit of nager nager. It was packed with kids breaking all the rules of the pool - splashing, bombing, heavy petting - it was all going on. The lifeguard watched on gormlessly, whistle hanging dormant around his neck. When I'd got there, the guy at the counter raised an eyebrow at me as if to say "are you sure you really want to venture in there?"

"Yes" I replied in my mind as I searched my wallet for the correct change to use the lockers, "I'm going in."

I was ready. I was brave and prepared to dodge the inflatables and hormone fuelled adolescent teenagers.

It was going so well and I was slaloming through the parade of obstacles in my path as I did my lengths. Then confrontation hit.

You know in the wild west movies when the two cowboys face up to each other and there is tension filled incidental music? Well here in Bramley Swimming Baths on a midweek afternoon, this was my wild west moment. The only differences were that we didn't have guns, we were both wearing swimming trunks and one of us was about thirteen. So only three real differences there from those old movies. Everything else was basically the same.

As I swim up to the deep end, the kid hits me with his best insult. He's been working on it, you can see. How to best impress his friends. Some time has been spent on the sentence construction and tone here. And it's not easy for him to say it, he blurts it out.

Let's analyse.

Mate - A friendly opening designed to suck me in before he hits me with the killer punch. Like a check-raise in poker. He's cunning this boy, I'll give him that.

Dickhead - Another interesting choice.

Firstly, perhaps he doesn't know any real swear words? Though I find this hard to believe.

Secondly, maybe he's scared that if he uses too strong a word I'm going to deck him or steal his pocket money?

And thirdly, how exactly does a dickhead swim?

Now, a dilemma, what do you do when a thirteen year old kid insults you? It's a difficult problem at the best of times. When you are doing a slightly awkward doggy paddle it complicates matters further.

I did what I do best. I gave him a dirty look. The one I use on people when I think they are trying to bluff me at the poker table. Trust me here, it's a good one. I think that did the trick, his chortling subsided and he fixed me with a stare of his own, but as he was only thirteen, a lot of work clearly had to be done with his glaring. To be honest, it was poor and lacked penetration. Thus. I win.

And then I used my killer move. As I pushed off to swim back to the other end of the pool, I kicked my legs really hard and completely splashed him with water. It was smooth. Trust me, it was smooth.

That's cus I'm a mean mutha ucka and I don't take anyone ucking with my shi...

Monday, 16 February 2009

Top five music videos

5. New Order - World In Motion

Remember when England were good at football?

No I'm not talking about 2001 or even 1996. It's time to go back to 1990.

Gary Lineker banging in the goals. A svelte Gazza in his prime. Chris Waddle bounding down the wing, his mullet proudly trailing behind him. A beautiful sight for all Englishmen.

In the video, witness Gillian Gilbert looking distinctly awkward, Keith Allen being a twat and Bernard Sumner driving across the pitch in a car, no doubt ruining the playing surface in the process. Perhaps this was the reason the team were unable to practice taking penalties?

And of course, we have to mention the John Barnes rap at 2:30. For me, rather than Gazza's tears, this was the iconic image of the 1990 World Cup. Some say it was his best performance in an England shirt and I wouldn't disagree. The lyricism, the flow, the focus, the hip swivel - It's all there.

In Stuart Maconie's excellent rock journalist biography Cider With Roadies he claims that several versions of the rap were recorded by a few different players. It certainly raises the tantalising possibility that a version of World In Motion featuring Peter Beardsley's mumbling Geordie tones is in existence in the vaults of a studio somewhere. That's something I would love to hear.

Still the best sports song ever. Bar none.


4. Guns 'n' Roses - November Rain

Not my favourite GnR song, but my word what a video. The overblown pomposity of it all is pure Axl Rose. Fantastic.

Now. Would you trust Slash to be your best man? I imagine it would be a good stag night, but I'm not too sure about his speech at the dinner or organising anything.

And then at 4:05, Stoke-on-Trent's finest son strides out of the church, dressed in cowboy boots and leather chaps, sunglasses around the neck, fag dangling from the corner of his mouth and rips into the solo. My favourite 'rawk' moment in music video history.


3. The Clash - London Calling

Live performance videos can be dull and unimaginative affairs. But when the band is The Clash then normal rules don't apply.

The side on camera shots are what make it. The triple attack of Jones, Strummer and Simonen stepping backwards and then lurching forward to the microphones when the vocals kick in. I can feel the crackling of that energy through the screen.

Having been born in 1980, of course I never saw The Clash play live. How I would do anything to be beside that bandstand in the pouring rain.

(I can't find a decent quality version of this that will let me embed. So this will have to do)


2. Joy Division - Atmosphere

Wow. Just wow.

Anton Corbijn's magnificent tribute to Ian Curtis. Beautifully shot in black and white, somehow the concept fits the song perfectly. And if you are even the slightest fan of Joy Division, it's impossible not to be moved by the sight of those huge prints of classic photographs.

Nothing more needs to be said.


1. Beastie Boys - Sabotage

Oh yeah!

This is the one I can watch again and again. I think it's the wigs that do it for me. That and the cavalier descent of staircases.

Of course Spike Jonze is a talented man, but surely this must have been the most fun either he or the band ever had in their life?

I would love to don a comedy hairpiece and moustache to have some car chases, do reckless kung fu kicks and roll around on the floor recreating this video.

In fact, what are you all doing next Friday?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Some of my favourite music videos

For no apparent reason whatsoever, I wanted to tell you about some of my all time favourite music videos.

As a child of the MTV generation, music videos have always been really important to me. Some remind me of certain points in my life, others of certain people. Mostly they are just three and a half minute distractions.

I'm not saying these are the best music videos ever, but for a variety of reasons, they are some of my favourites.

10. Depeche Mode - Enjoy The Silence

Here's my theory. Dave Gahan is on his way back from a monarchy themed fancy dress party. It's late/early, the sun is just coming up. He takes a wrong turn just outside Basildon and finds a deckchair in a skip...

I have no idea what was on Anton Corbijn's mind when he came up with the concept for this video, but I'm mighty glad he made it.


9. Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy

Firstly, I genuinely and truly love this song.

The crux of the video is that Jimmy Sommerville has a homoerotic encounter in a swimming baths and then eats his lunch on a train. Doesn't sound the most riveting, but never has a music video been so starkly poignant and yet so utterly hilarious at the same time.


8. PJ Harvey - This Is Love

Just because. OK?


7. Army of Lovers - Crucifed

When I was growing up, for some reason or another we had German MTV rather than normal MTV. As a consequence, I was exposed to more eurodisco anthems than was probably healthy at such a formative age. Perhaps this is why I now have a penchant for visiting gay bars despite the fact that I am completely straight. This one is my favourite eurodisco song of them all.

The video is truly, truly bizarre, completely camp and ridiculously over the top! The gratuitous cleavage shots, the miniature piano, the dog and cat on the chair, the revealing wedding dress, the bathtub, the swordfight, the bed in the cage... I could go on... Genius!


6. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Do You Love Me?

Whenever I am in a bar alone, writing, I dream I am Nick Cave in this video. However instead of Pedro, Luiz and Madalena, I'm usually surrounded by the likes of Dave and Kev from the building site down the road, Doreen behind the bar and Murphy the one-eyed Irishman. And I am brought down to earth and remember that nobody can ever be as brooding and cool as Nick Cave.

Mention has to be made of the truly terrible and inexplicable 'dad at a wedding' style dancing that begins 1:45' into the video. Possibly some of the worst dancing ever recorded on celluloid.


More soon...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Sunday Warm-up final table

On Sunday I finished 8th out of 4,394 players in the Sunday Warm-up on PokerStars for a cool $10,985. I don't play tourneys very often and it's my biggest ever tournament cash. It was nice to make it in probably the second most prestigious weekly online tournament.

This was only the third time I've ever played the Million or the Warm-up and I enjoyed it a lot, though it was pretty nerve racking near the end. I managed to get hold of some chips early thanks to some kind donations and one or two suck outs and I was 10th in chips at the first break. From then on things got rolling and eventually some nine hours later we were at the final table.

In the time in between I played on the same table as some great players (Kenny 'Kenny Rap' Weinstein, Anthony 'D1rtyR1v3r' Nardi and Kevin 'BeL0WaB0Ve' Saul), as well of course as some complete donkeys.

I felt like I learnt a lot from playing such a lengthy high profile tournament - The way things change at different points, the importance of the dynamic of the table and your own table image.

I don't even think I am that good at tournaments, but I was able to use the things I've picked up in the past few months to play a pretty solid game with occasional aggression. I thought I played well, generally stole my fair share of blinds and also put in a few nice resteals at crucial times, even tangling with Kevin Saul on a few occasions.

Below are ten hands from the tournament along with a little bit of analysis. Let's hope I'll be writing about another big final table soon.

Hand #301

This is where things kickstarted for me in the tournament and I thought I could do something. An open raise from Carlito who is running at 31/19 and involved in a fair few pots. I elect to raise from the big blind with AJ. His opening range from the hijack is reasonably wide, so I think this is ok, though perhaps a call would have been better to try and play post flop. If he four bet shoves me here, then I think I may well fold in this spot.

The K69 flop gives me nothing more than a nut backdoor flush draw and some overcard possibilities and I check with the mind to probably give up on the hand if he fires. I've put myself in the position where a continuation bet of any kind is decidedly awkward, therefore the preflop raise by me seems like it was a mistake. Surprisingly he checks behind. The turn brings a third club and I decide to seize the chance. Smelling possible weakness after Carlito's flop check behind, I shove all in for 148k into a pot of 144.5k and am called by pocket queens with the queen high flush draw.

And of course I get there and hit my 25% shot on the river. This one sends me dancing around my lounge.

Was it a good shove? I'm not sure, but I felt the pot was there for the taking and went for it. He certainly didn't have to have a hand as strong as he did. So I don't mind my play here at all on the turn. My pre-flop and flop play is another matter.


Hand #332

Carlito is again the villain and I am now more than aware of his unconventional play. A standard open raise with AK is flat called in the big blind. With a flop of 4JQ all hearts I have two overcards, a gut shot and a backdoor king-high four flush draw.

It's checked to me and I check behind. I think I like my play here. The flop quite possibly hits a fair bit of his range there giving him pairs, a variety of straight draw options and perhaps some kind of heart draw too. If I continuation bet, he has a nice stack to check raise all in where I will be faced with a very tough decision indeed. I have a lot of draw options and my hand may even be good right now, the pot is still manageable so I think the check is the prudent play.

The turn is 8d which is a virtual blank, though it does mean he gets there if he has J10. He bets 2/3 of the pot and I choose to flat call. I could elect to raise all in myself here but I do worry that he might have some kind of pair with the ace high flush draw combination which would leave me in decidedly bad shape. I'm in a tricky spot now, especially if and ace or king hits on the river. Of course my AK high may still be good and he may just check and give up the river if he has nothing at all.

The river is a heart giving me a king high flush on a paired board. He bets 96k into a pot of 172k and the clear play here is to just call behind. I think it's a complete zero play to raise all in here, I'm not sure any worse hand is calling (q and j of hearts are out) and there is no need to risk my entire tournament. He shows 54 which I think was actually a good gutsy bluff bet on the river, turning a made flop hand into a bluff. But thankfully I managed to get there.


Hand #382

D1rtyR1v3r is clearly an excellent tournament player. In the top 20 of the Pocket Fives rankings, he knows his stuff for sure. So when he raises from under the gun, despite the fact he hasn't got out of line so far, I know his range could be wider than some other players. That said I'm really not convinced it was the right play to reraise with AJo from the cut off. And indeed, if I was going to reraise, my raise from 60k to 168k was too much. It committed too high a proportion of my stack and a little bit of a smaller reraise would have done the same job. I think if I was going to reraise, somewhere in the region of 140-145k would have been appropriate and easier to fold to a shove.

It folds back to D1rtyR1v3r and he shoves it in my face by going all in. Now this is an awful position and one that could have been avoided.

Including his shove there is now 809,164 in the pot and I have to pay my remaining 413,164 to call. It's a sickener. I could be dominated, but if my ace is live I think I have the correct price here. Perhaps I should have played the odds and made the call here. But if I fold, the blinds are only 12.5k/25k and I have over 400k, so I have plenty to play with. I'm really not sure. I need to put some numbers in Poker Stove and take a look.

It's certainly strong play from my opponent, but as a top player I know he is more than capable of making a move. Would this be the spot he would choose to do it. I'm really not sure.


Hand #404

Perhaps a pretty straightforward hand, but this is the type of spot I've been guilty of making a fold before and I think it was definitely a weakness in my tourney game. I have 9xBB and the small blind open shoves me. He is running at 11/9 over 140 hands, so he's certainly not a LAG. With A5 suited, I ponder briefly, but I make the call. He shows K3 and I hold to double up.


Hand #436

What should and could have been a standard AQ v 66 race turns into a sick cooler for my opponent when his pocket sixes are counterfeited on the river by quad threes, making my ace high play as the kicker. I like my shove here, I think it was the correct play and he also made the correct call, but it was twisted the way the hand went down. Nice to be on the right end of it of course. :)


Hand #460

Kevin Saul raises from early position and I reraise from the button with A7 of spades. Now Saul was opening a lot of pots with just over a minimum raise and it was a strategy that was picking him up chips. Every time so far when someone had played back he'd just folded. With A7 I figure to probably have the best hand. I also have the button just in case he decides to flat call. I like my re-raise size here too. As it turns out he folds this time. If he shoves on me I'm really not sure of the right play here, bearing in mind my opponent is one of the most aggressive on the internet.


Hand #486

Things are getting tough now with Kevin Saul pounding on my blinds. I'm managing to hold my own and not get runover, though this is a tough stretch of play.

I elect to open raise j9o from the cutoff and get min raised by the loosest player at the table, Hasie65 on the button. Options here, we both have chips and the raise is so small that a fold is out of the question. I could shove, but I get the feeling that this guy might call pretty wide, so I decide to call.

The flop is 68T giving me an up and down straight draw. Again options here. Shoving 1.32million into a pot of 736k is a possibility but I don't think the right one. If I donk out and bet something like 2/3 of the pot then its a tough spot if he shoves. Instead I check to him, he bets and I check raise him all in. I think this is a fine play in this spot. He makes quite a call with AQ and I'm a small 46/54 dog. A beautiful queen comes on the turn, pairing him but giving me the straight and now I have just under 3.4 million.


Hand # 494

Kevin Saul had played flawlessly up to this point, lots of little raises and bets, picking up a lot of pots and establishing a chip lead with 20 players left. I believe I was third at this point. But Saul was to bust in 19th place in a sick and crazy hand that had the observers going mad in the chatbox.

Saul ended up shoving his chips in with queen high and the crazy German Hasie65 again made the call with ace high and was again ahead. Blank on the river, Saul is out and we are down to two tables. I am mighty relieved as I was decidedly uneasy whenever Saul was in a hand. He such a good and unpredictable player.


Hand #504

About 15 left now. This time I don't have to draw and hit my hand on the flop, achieving maximum value and doubling up to monster 5.5 million.

Despite the fact it is a draw heavy board, I like my flat call on the flop of Hasie's donk bet. He's shown that he's overvalued any pair and I had to take the chance of giving him an extra card so he would be committed and be forced to call an all in. You can't blame him for betting the turn and when I move all in he snap calls. He's been calling all ins with ace high, so top pair is absolutely huge for him!


Hand #506

Two hands later and now this is a bit of a weird one and one that I think I misplayed quite a bit because of my opponent. Again it is me vs the crazy German. He's now running at 39/27 and with blinds at 50k/100k, he minimum raises from the cut off to 200k which is something he'd been apt to do quite a bit. I wake up with jacks in the BB and decide to pop him. The problem is that I think I make a misclick here. I'm pretty sure I wanted to raise to 800k but I only reraise to 600k. This is a mistake and I believe this raise is too small. Another play which I though would have been fine would have been to flat call, keep the pot small and see a flop.

He calls and the flop comes QT8 with two clubs and I fire a half sized pot bet. I want to take it down right here but it's such a draw heavy board and my opponent is so unpredictable that this is perhaps unlikely. He then min raises me which is a bit of a sickener. Perhaps my lead was a mistake. He's been making really small flop bets, tiny in fact. So if I'd checked to him I could have perhaps seen a turn and maybe even a river cheaply and kept the pot small. However, check calling is rarely a profitable play.

All three options are possibilities here. I definitely have room to come over the top and three bet all in. He'd called two huge all ins with ace high so perhaps it was the correct play. However, perhaps the situation got to me a little and I couldn't pull the trigger. I'd just seen what happened to Kevin Saul and as we were both amongst the chip leaders. I flat called to see the turn and assess the situation.

The eight of clubs is a pretty terrible card for me here. One of the worst in the deck and I ended up folding to a very small bet and feeling sick about it for quite a while. This is one hand I regret a lot, but I've still got chips.


Approaching the final table

Still with around 15 or 16 left I win a race AK v 33 in a 2.4 million pot, but the hand after run tens into kings in a 3.8 Million pot and I'm back in the pack with the rest of the field.

I carry on chipping away, stealing the occasional blinds and keeping afloat. I pick up AK twice but just take the blinds both times and eventually we are on the final table.


Hand #559

My final hand was a pretty standard affair. I shoved AQ from utg+1 with around 11bb's. The button, who was the only one with less chips as me, called and was also all in. The big stack in the small blind then makes what I think it a terrible overcall with AJ. Really bad call. In the end AJ > AQ & AK and he busts both of us. I have more chips at the start of the hand, therefore I take 8th place, so that bad call my opponent ended up making me an extra $3,800. Thank you big4aday!

So that's it. I still can't believe I got through almost over 4,500 players to get to the final table. If any poker geeks would like to make comments about any of the hands then please do!

Monday, 2 February 2009

More news from nowhere

I'm hibernating.

It feels like a bit of an in between time at the moment. Before something starts. Before the cogs begin to whir and and wheels begin to turn. Before an event of significance happens.

Somehow, I find myself in Leeds, in the north of England. Living in a residential area filled with chavs, small aggressive dogs and hyperactive children called Kane and Kyle.

I feel like I'm preparing, getting ready for something important. Or maybe it is just nice to tell myself that, to justify this downtime, this isolation from seemingly normal everyday existence.

I have spent some time thinking about Buddhism and I want to know more.

I have spent some time pondering Polyamory and I would like to investigate further.

And I suspect that I spend more time than most ruminating on the best way to play two overcards, in a shorthanded Limit Texas Hold'em game, when you've been just been check-raised by an aggressive opponent on the flop.

Poker player Andy Black spent five years at a Buddhist retreat before returning to the game and finishing fifth in the 2005 World Series of Poker.

When Joe Strummer hibernated, he went and holed up in Paris where he ran the marathon (whilst smoking).

Some say that Richey Edwards, guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers, has never stopped hibernating.

Me? Well what am I doing? Sometimes I ask myself the same question.

I drink tea. I eat pasta. I watch films at the local arthouse cinema. I try and fail each month to attend the local crime book group and schedule an induction at the gym. I scrutinise and analyse poker hands and strategies with the concentration and alertness of a chess grandmaster. I visit towns and cities in the north of England - once I may even take a camera with me. I listen to Faith No More. I avoid contact with people who I've worked for before, so as not to have to reject the offer of paid work. Most of all I enjoy the time, space and freedom afforded to me by my current circumstances.

I don't expect any rockstar has ever spent a lengthy and fruitful period of time ensconced on a council estate in Leeds. But my friend tells me that the Sisters of Mercy's offices are based nearby, in a rundown industrial area. Well they haven't released and album for 19 years and I expect the rent is cheaper there.

As the snow falls, I lie on my bed, feeling the springs digging into my back and gaze over the panoramic view of West Leeds offered by my bedroom window. The pristine white vista is only broken by the glisten of the barbed wire that surrounds the derelict mill building which was earmarked to be turned into apartments, a plan now mothballed due to the credit crunch. And I wonder if this scene will make it into my biography. Somehow I doubt it and the writer, who will be trying to piece together my life after I turned him/her down for interview, will skip to the part where I became successful at _______.

That would be a mistake because this time is important too. I can feel it.